Rumblings east and west don't bode well for Dion

In Nova Scotia, the Liberal leader has to deal with sniping from his own MPs

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The Gazette, Monday, August 11, 2008

There's nothing like a top-secret strategy session that everyone knows about ahead of time. So much for the element of surprise for Stéphane Dion, who called his senior campaign advisers to Stornoway for a discussion on whether to force a fall election, and then apparently cancelled at the weekend when the word got out.

Evidently, there will be another meeting, to discuss the Liberal election platform. Uh-huh. Doesn't matter.

Once again the story line is whether Dion will bring down the government.

This is Dion's version of Groundhog Day. Every day, when he looks outside, the media are asking when he's going to defeat the Conservatives in the House.

But once again, Dion would be ill-advised to throw caution to the wind. There are three by-elections coming up on Sept. 8, and the results will give Dion a good idea of which way the political winds are blowing in the fall. He really doesn't need to say anything until then. He certainly doesn't need to fall for Stephen Harper's dare to "fish or cut bait."

The right answer for all the media staking out the story is that there is no story until there is, and that Dion will be the judge of that. See you in September, have a nice day.

Except that there are too many other elements in the mix.

Last week, the Liberals had to contend with the resignations of two nominated candidates, Robert Morrissey in the Prince Edward Island riding of Egmont and Gary Oledzki in the Saskatchewan riding of Palliser. One Down East, and the other Out West.

Now that's a serious problem, and one that has to be addressed. The Liberals dealt with the Oledzki matter last Thursday with a terse statement by party president Doug Ferguson that "Mr. Oledzki is stepping down for personal and professional reasons.

"He believes that this course of action is in the best interest of the Party, and my fellow Liberals and I accept his decision."

Of course, Oledzki's stepping aside has nothing to do with Dion's Green Shift plan for a carbon tax, which is about as popular in Saskatchewan as a plague of grasshoppers in a prairie wheat field.

In the Atlantic, absent a credible explanation from the Liberals, the Conservatives were delighted to provide one.

Enter Peter MacKay, the Conservative supremo for the region, who was only too happy to spin the story for the Charlottetown Guardian, which proudly "covers Prince Edwards Island like the dew."

While Morrissey cited the uncertainty over election timing, MacKay told the local paper in a phone interview it had more to do with Dion's Green Shift, which isn't playing well in Atlantic Canada.

"You have farmers, fishermen and those working in the trucking industry," MacKay said, "who are going to be hit right in the head with an increase in fuel costs at a time when diesel and fuel is skyrocketing.''

In the Maritimes, politics is a blood sport where the object is always to take the other team into the boards. But Dion is also being cross-checked by his own team.

A Liberal MP from Cape Breton, Rodger Cuzner, told the Halifax Chronicle-Herald the other day that the time had indeed come for Dion to force an election.

"I think he's got to pull the pin this time round," Cuzner said.

When a caucus isn't happy with the leader, you can always count on some members to talk too much. Cuzner's quote is indicative of fear and loathing inside the tent.

As his summer tour of the barbecue circuit and strawberry socials winds down, the question for Dion's brain trust is how his green plan is playing across the country.

One video vignette from Dion's tour on the Liberal website shows a relaxed Dion proposing "to reconcile the people and the planet." It's an elegant turn of phrase.

But in a 30-second Liberal campaign spot, called "clap-clap," Dion is surrounded by an unhappy-looking band of Liberal MPs, joining in the clap-clapping, as he asks in the tag line: "We're up for the challenge, are you?"

That's called framing the issue.

But there are two problems for the Liberals on the Green Shift. One is the message and the other is the messenger.

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